For many avid backpackers a simple day trip is not enough. While it can be exhilarating to escape from the confines of civilization for a few days, long trips require considerable commitment and preparation.
Your pack should have a rigid internal frame, padded shoulder straps and a comfortable, padded hipbelt. For longer trips, you can extend the capacity of your pack by adding a pair of side pockets (or consider renting a large-capacity model). You will likely carry a lightweight backpacking tent, a compressible sleeping bag, an insulating sleeping pad, a small stove, and functional clothing that suits the conditions you'll encounter.
A final equipment consideration is whether your boots are supportive enough to accommodate the additional weight you will be carrying. The two most common mistakes that plague hikers are using inappropriate footwear, and carrying too heavy a load.
The first question to answer is whether you will be tenting or sleeping in a hut. Keep in mind that many wilderness areas prohibit camping in non-designated areas and often do not allow campfires. If you will be staying in a hut, find out if it is necessary to register, how much it will cost, and what amenities are included (stove fuel, sleeping pads, bedding). It's also a good idea to establish a contingency plan for your trip in case your hut is full, or you never actually make it to your final overnight destination.
Finding a safe and handy supply of drinking water is also important – even if it looks clean, it should be filtered, treated, or boiled to prevent you from becoming seriously ill. As a final note, remember that backpacking can be a slow way to travel. A trail that may only take a couple of hours to tackle with a small daypack, may take all day with a full overnight load.
Group size and individual ability are important considerations. The larger the group, the longer it will take to do anything – from planning the trip to actually completing it. Heavy loads will magnify differences in physical ability. Plan to re-group at regular checkpoints and give everyone in your group equal time to rest. It might be useful to plan one or more rest days in a multi-day trip. But try to avoid scheduling a rest day in a poor campsite location, such as a thicket of devil's club or far from a water source.
It may be wise to assign a group leader, usually the most experienced person in the party, to take responsibility for planning, route-finding, and maintaining a suitable group pace. The leader can also be responsible for bringing first aid and safety equipment and making sure everyone is equipped for the outing.
If you or your group are reported missing, search and rescue professionals will have a much easier time finding you if you've completed a trip plan and left it with a friend.
Download a PDF copy of the Trip Plan for Outdoor Survival, prepared byand the British Columbia Provincial Emergency Program.
When using the form:
Many search and rescue operations have been launched for individuals who were never actually lost. To help avoid this, experienced groups may add extra time into their trip plan instructions to account for delays. For the well-equipped party, an extra night out in the backcountry is nothing to fear.